Making Fantastic the Norm: Should We Change How We Define IT Success?

By Janet Brimson, Information and Analytics Partner

Anyone who’s worked in Information Technology has experienced a mistake or two. IT publications are littered with cautionary tales of projects gone spectacularly wrong, with the worst examples often headlining mainstream news. Failure is easy to define, but what about success? What defines a winning project? And why do 37% of IT projects fail?

When good enough isn’t good enough

IT departments are busy places, and when a project’s complete, the team involved often quickly move on to something else. This is especially the case in organisations with a high proportion of reactive and remedial projects positioning them in continual catch-up, always putting out fires. Recently we worked on a project started with a technology driven design that in theory would provide the right outcome. A complex bottom up architecture was created and the implementation began. A considerable amount of money was spent, the design appeared to work and met the needs of a small group of staff but not the greater needs of the business, and in some organisations, that outcome may have been enough.

Fortunately, this customer was unwilling to settle for just good enough, and when we reviewed the situation, we were able to understand the problem. The project had been driven from the wrong perspective, one of records management rather than information management. While that sounds like splitting hairs, it isn’t when you end up with an absurdly complex project supporting the minority of users, being implemented to a support team without the skills to maintain the product.

We work with customers in incredibly complex operating environments, such as health departments and hospitals, and we see the knock-on effect that ‘good enough’ projects have on the staff as they go about their duties. Given the importance of IT systems to today’s workers, just any outcome isn’t good enough to ensure their productivity, and many end up draining IT support and maintenance time for years to come.

Increasing chances of IT project success

Like my customer with the expensive records management system, many organisations start on the wrong track from the outset. Conversations may be driven from a technology or business perspective however, the driver needs to be at the strategy and process layers (following the supply and value chains) where the people in the organisation do the work. This helps to simplify complexity, because with front line buy in and involvement, they will quickly tell you when an outcome is not working.

The more complex the project, the higher the stakes. In the case of healthcare, the staff always want to know how an IT change will help them to do their best for patients, and if we can work with that guiding principle, it helps to clarify what the right outcome will look like. The projects that succeed inevitably focus on how they will help the people on the front line to work better and deliver their best to their customers.

Failure: Cost or Opportunity

When we accept mediocrity, we miss the opportunity for reflection that is vital to progress. Studying failures, or even qualified successes show us how to create fantastic successes.

Examining failures is an essential part of progress in IT, and so is reviewing ‘successful’ projects to explore whether the outcome could have been even better, or more cost-effective. It is simplistic to see results in such black and white terms as success or failure, without measuring the quality of such an outcome.

Quality IT Outcomes

Quality IT outcomes are driven from the right lens being brought to the problem right from the start and conscious learning and reflection to a better outcome along the way. And quality IT outcomes require a quality IT partner.

If you are in trouble you wouldn’t just choose any lawyer to represent you. Similarly, if you are seriously unwell you will seek a specialist not any GP. It makes sense to take similar steps to ensure you have the right IT partner (or partners) to support the project.

The quality of your partner largely influences the quality of your outcome. This is especially the case in large, complicated environments with legacy systems, where experience pays off. Although the tales of epic fails have a certain train-wreck interest, we’d rather see your organisation become a fantastic success story instead.

Facing an IT project in a complex work environment? I’m always happy to share information about planning to succeed.

By Janet Brimson, Partner for Information and Analytics at Business Aspect    

About Business Aspect
Business Aspect assists customers with the execution of their business strategy through either large-scale business transformation or by addressing smaller challenges in specific areas of the business. It focuses on the business first, and then identifies technology needs as an enabler of required business outcomes.
It has skills, experience and expertise in; business and technology strategy, architecture, risk, control, planning, design and governance. Through its services, Business Aspect addresses all layers of the business, including people, organisational change, process change, information management, information and communications technology applications and technology infrastructure.
Business Aspect solves complex business problems through the collaborative efforts of its team of highly experienced personnel, and the application of proven intellectual property. A key strength is the diversity of the background and skills its senior consultants bring to planning initiatives involving people, process and systems.